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Water Quality Certifications

Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act requires state certification for any permit or license issued by a federal agency for an activity that may result in a discharge into waters of the US. Water quality certifications ensure projects comply with state water quality standards and any other water quality requirements under state law.

Once a §401 certification is requested, DEQ must act within a reasonable period of time, which cannot exceed one year. DEQ can waive certification (either expressly or by taking no action), deny certification, grant certification, or grant certification with conditions. If a certification is issued with conditions, they become conditions of the license or permit and are enforceable.

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The federal Clean Water Act requires a permit to conduct water-related construction activities such as fills for development, water resource projects, and infrastructure development. The US Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for issuing dredge and fill permits in Idaho

The NPDES program requires facilities discharging from a point source (e.g. a pipe or other conveyance) into waters of the US to obtain a discharge permit. An NPDES permit contains limits on what can be discharged and other provisions to ensure that the discharge does not harm water quality or the public’s health.

A §401 certification is required for any federally issued NPDES permit in Idaho, including all NPDES permits issued prior to the State of Idaho assuming primacy for permitting.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is responsible for issuing licenses for the construction of new hydropower projects, relicensing existing projects, and overseeing ongoing project operations, including dam safety inspections and environmental monitoring.

Before FERC may license or relicense non-federal hydroelectric dams, a state certification is required. A company that has applied for a FERC license must request a §401 certification from DEQ. DEQ must grant or deny certification within one year of receipt of the request. If the state has not granted or denied the certification within one year of the request, certification is considered waived.

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